Curse of the Sabeth, part III
Michelle wanted to sleep. The longer she could keep her eyes closed, the longer she could shut it all out. But her eyes kept snapping open like a parking meter demanding more pennies, making her feel that time was running out.
When she first arrived back at the house, she expected Regina to be there waiting for her. She was glad but surprised to find the place empty. She had put away the few items she'd bought, fixed something to eat and gone upstairs for time to think. A little later she'd heard muffled noises downstairs. Doors opening and closing. Voices bouncing from one end to the other. One softer. Regina, of course. The other was louder. A man's voice. Reverend Sabeth again. Two people who now took up more space in her life than she'd ever thought existed. Taking the place of others that she wished she'd never lost.
She expected Regina to come in and check on her but it never happened. For hours she'd lain in her makeshift bed, her mind racing in endless circles. Every time she came up with a plan of action, she immediately came up with a matching problem. She could run away again but she had no money. Without money, she knew what might happen on the dark streets of L.A. Recently she'd realized how lucky she had been making her way alone across the country and then venturing into the city. She might not be so fortunate a second time.
She could tell the Reverend that she had changed her mind but the very thought of telling him felt wrong. It was amazing how differently she felt about everything now. Trying to call her parents flew briefly into her thoughts. Guilt overwhelmed her desire to reach out to them. And she still wasn't sure it would make any difference to them whether she came home or not. They had been so upset that she wondered if they'd noticed her absence. But somehow she had to do something. She at least wanted Joey to be proud of her…the way she always was of him.
Memories stirred in her mind like the dusty haze of a late afternoon sun. Joey daring her to ride a bike for the first time when she was five. Taking her to the Saturday matinees when she was ten. He said he'd take her to Hollywood and Disneyland after he turned eighteen. He was going to drive his car--his first car. And he even hinted that he'd teach her to drive on the way there. But he took a trip halfway around the world instead. Without her.
He'd winked at her and made a promise to come back for her.
It was the first time he'd broken a promise. And the last.
She swung one arm over her eyes, trying to keep the angry tears from forming. Michelle took a deep breath and forced herself to think about something else. Mr. Marinoni. He was so nice to her. She found herself thinking about the two police officers as well. That surprised her.
A creak in the hallway splintered the silence.
Michelle squished the pillow around her head, covering her ears to help block out the sound. As she stared at the closed door with the broken lock, she made her decision. In the morning she'd leave as soon as she had a chance, go back to Mr. Marinoni's store and take his advice. Just like she told him. She wasn't going to be a liar anymore. And she had to leave this place before something bad happened.
"I can't believe this." Coop ran a weary hand through his long hair and watched as the double doors of the ambulance thumped shut. "This is unreal, man."
"Stretches the boundaries of coincidence, wouldn't you say?" Pete queried the young detective. Behind him, the emergency vehicle pulled away silently.
"Like a worn out rubber band."
"Coop, what time were you supposed to meet her?" Jim asked.
"About now, actually. Told me about a little out of the way coffee shop off Figeroa, a few blocks from here. Said it was one place she felt safe."
"She say why?"
"Any chance she might've been meeting someone else as well?"
"I guess anything's possible but I'm betting she was taking the back streets to stay outta sight."
"Well, someone met up with her, whether she planned it or not. What about that guy?" Pete asked. "Ever run across him before?" Russell Tinneman sat in the backseat of 1-Adam-12, his eyes working to avoid the three men.
"He doesn't look familiar," Coop shook his head and glanced over his shoulder. "I've got to finish here. Why don't you guys go ahead and take care of booking him? Maybe you can get something out of him. I'll catch up to you at the station as soon as I can. If you're going to be around?"
"Probably. We're off-shift soon." Jim looked at Pete, who nodded.
"And I guess this means I'm back on the clock."
"Yeah, looks that way," Pete said.
"You know, I didn't mind looking into this on my own time. I do mind that it might've bothered someone else enough to kill her."
"Are you going to make a stop at Sabeth's?" Jim asked.
"Depends on what else we find here and what your guy spills. Don't worry. If it concerns Sabeth, I'll be calling for the cavalry. That's you guys, in case you didn't know."
"Come on, Jim. Let's take care of Mr. Tinneman," Pete said.
"Hey, come on…you gotta believe me! I didn't kill that girl!"
Pete held in a worn-out sigh as he closed the door to lockup for their prisoner. The guy had exercised his right to remain silent for the duration of the ride to the station. But as soon as he'd been officially booked, Tinneman reactivated his vocal cords. Strenuously. They found an empty room and waited to hear what he had to say.
"Look, I told you what happened. I was walkin' along and I heard screaming."
"And then what?" Pete asked.
"Well," Tinneman rocked slightly in his chair, rubbing his hands across the tops of his knees. "I waited at first. It's not everyday that you hear some girl screaming her head off like that. Besides, I wasn't sure where it was coming from."
"But you managed to find her."
"Only because I saw somebody run out of that building."
"Can you describe them?" Jim asked.
"No, they were bookin' it. And it was dark, remember?"
"There was light on the loading dock," Jim reminded him.
"I was too far away and I only saw the back of 'em."
"More than one person?"
"One was all I saw. But there could've been more. How should I know?"
"Did you know the victim? Her name was Angela Barry."
"No, no, never saw her before." Tinneman's head shook with rapid tremors.
"You assaulted my partner, Mr. Tinneman," Pete said, giving the man a cool stare.
"Assaulted? Come on," Tinneman laughed uneasily as his eyes tripped their way over to look at Jim. "So I ran into you. Once I saw that dead chick, it was time for Splitsville, U.S.A. Can you blame me?"
"Depends, Mr. Tinneman."
"On whether or not you had anything to do with the death of Angela Barry."
"Whaddya think, Pete?" Jim tried to wind down as he sat in the hard chair, resting his arms on top of the table. They were the only ones in the break room at this late hour. Too late for coffee, definitely too early for breakfast. Besides, he didn't think food sounded like a very good idea right now.
"I don't know. There's not much to his story. And then we find out he's got two convictions for dealing. That could be the reason he's acting like a nervous Nellie in there."
"Either way, he's not exactly credible."
"Maybe Coop will find a connection," Pete said, holding back a yawn as he stretched his arms. "You know, there's no telling how long it'll take him. You planning on putting in a double-shift or something?"
"I thought I'd wait a while longer. Besides, it's too late to call Jean again and I'm in no hurry to get home to an empty house," Jim said, one finger tracing an invisible pattern on the tabletop. "Don't let me keep you here, Pete."
"I'm not going anywhere."
"I heard that." Mac's voice surprised both of them. Propping the door open with his foot, he crossed his arms in front of him and submitted a stern expression.
"Hey, Mac," Pete said.
"Hey yourself. Look, you guys, I know you've been waiting for word on this Angela Barry case. But these are the only words you're going to hear right now. Go home."
"But…" Jim started.
"I know how important this is to you. It's important to all of us. But there's nothing else you can do at this end. Not tonight." Mac eased up slightly as he continued with his advisement. "However, I did hear from Detective Lee. He wanted you to know that he's still tied up at the scene. Doing his job. And I want you both sharp and clear-headed tomorrow when you do your jobs. Go home and get some sleep. You're going to need it, no matter what happens with this thing."
"Come on, Jim," Pete stood up, his chair squeaking across the floor. "We still need to stop at Central Receiving."
"Why?" Jim responded, slightly puzzled.
Pete tapped his own head with his index finger.
"Oh." A light bulb switched on. "Pete, good grief, it's no big deal."
"Pete's right. Get it checked out, Jim. Clear-headed, remember?"
Jim nodded as he rose to his feet. "Mac?"
"If this does lead back to Sabeth, I'll let you know. I promise."
Jim stretched out on the couch, propping a couple of Jean's frilly pillows underneath his head. Staring up at the ceiling, he accepted the fact that he'd be there for the rest of the night. Or morning, as it were. He was in no mood to walk into their bedroom and see the empty bed, let alone try to sleep in it.
His hand brushed the band-aid covering the graze on the side of his head. He was tempted to laugh at the absurdity of it but he wasn't in the mood. The hospital had proceeded to take an x-ray, "to be on the safe side," they said. When the doc brought the film back and showed it to them, he assured Pete that there had been no significant damage from the minor blow. Pete told the doctor that he knew it was Jim's because he didn't see a brain on the x-ray. Jim smiled in spite of his bad disposition.
His house had never been this quiet.
He missed feeling his son's little arms as they wrapped around his neck. He needed to hear those wild squeals of laughter when he held Jimmy high up in the air. He wanted to see Jean, to watch her walk slowly across the room, her eyes already holding him. Jim could almost smell the light flowery fragrance in her hair and feel her soft hand touch his face as she leaned down to kiss him. Almost.
He turned over, sat up and punched the stuffing in the small pillows.
The night already felt endless.
"Uhh…yeah…I think so," Jim answered the phone sluggishly, still trying to work the kinks out of his stiff muscles even after walking across the kitchen floor. He wasn't sure how much of the night he'd actually slept and how much of it had been spent tossing and turning.
"Called too early, didn't I? That's a switch."
"Yeah. Didn't sleep too good, I guess."
"I'm not surprised. Why don't I call you later?"
"No, Pete, that's okay. I'd rather be up, believe me. What's going on? Did you hear from anyone?"
"No, nothing like that. But I figured you'd be going in early again today. Unless you've decided to go see your wife and son for a little while?" Pete's voice was hopeful.
"I wish I could. But I can't take a chance, at least for a few days, Pete. You're right about going in early, though. Whatever it takes, I have to find something on Sabeth. And it can't be soon enough."
"We will, Jim. Why don't you let me take you to a late breakfast and then we'll get a head start back at the station?"
Jim couldn't resist a hoarse chuckle as he uncurled the dangling phone cord from around his arm. "You're going to take me? As in 'you're paying?'"
"Last chance. Offer expires in 10 seconds, partner."
"Offer accepted," Jim replied, laughing. "And appreciated."
"Duly noted. And you're welcome. Why don't you meet me down at Duke's in, say…an hour or so?"
"See you later."
"Yeah, okay. Bye, Pete."
Fifteen minutes later Jim was finished with his shower and stood in front of the bathroom mirror with a towel wrapped around his middle. He leaned in closer, wiped off the condensation with one hand and removed the soggy Band-Aid from his head. The slight swelling was gone, thanks to the ice pack he'd used last night. A small bruise edged toward his eye but it didn't look too bad. He shaved while unsuccessfully trying not to notice the lack of normal activity around him.
The first thing he'd done after talking to Pete was call Jean. She put Jimmy on the phone, too. Hearing both of their voices sorely tempted him to jump in the car and drive over there. He tried to assure Jean that some progress had been made in the case but he didn't specify exactly what. A vision of a dead woman wasn't exactly what he wanted to communicate to his wife. Jean was calm enough but she sounded as miserable as he felt. He knew that if something didn't break pretty soon he was going to have a hard time persuading his wife to stay at her parents' house much longer. Who am I kidding? I can barely convince myself.
By the time he was dressed and ready to go out the door, the phone rang again. Jim glanced at his watch, wondering if Pete was calling back for some reason.
"Officer Reed? This is Greg Foster…at Central Division."
"Foster. Sure, what's the problem?" Jim said, remembering the wide-eyed rookie he'd met in the hallway a few weeks ago.
"Yes, sir. Uh, I'm on desk duty and, ummm, anyway, a man called and asked for either you or Officer Malloy. I checked the schedule and I told him that both of you were on the PM Watch and wouldn't be in until later today. He said it wasn't an emergency but that it was very important."
"Who was it, Greg?"
"A Mr. Mary…Mary…" The young officer struggled with the pronunciation.
"Yeah, that's it! I mean, yes, sir, that's correct. He had an accent."
"What'd he say?"
"He asked if you could stop by and see him. I guess you know where he is?"
"Yes, I do. How long ago did he call?"
"About five minutes. Sergeant Hadden was here at the time and he told me to try and get the message to one of you, just in case. I called Officer Malloy but there wasn't any answer."
"Thanks, Greg. You did fine and I appreciate it. Anything else?"
"No, sir. That was all."
"Okay, thanks again. Good-bye," Jim said, noting the young man's string of formalities. Any other time it might've cheered him up.
Pressing down the receiver for a second, Jim looked at his watch again. He dialed several digits, hesitated as he forgot the sequence and squashed the receiver button again. He succeeded on the second try and waited for an answer.
"Duke's Café, what can I do for ya?"
"Duke, this is Jim Reed."
"Hey, one of my favorite customers!" Duke answered, enthusiastically.
"Duke, listen, is Pete Malloy there?"
"Nope. Are you looking for him? Is there some kind of trouble?"
"No, nothing like that. But Pete should be there any minute, Duke, and I need you to get a message to him."
"Can do. Whaddya want me to tell him?"
"Tell him that Mr. Marinoni called the station looking for us. That's Ma-ri-no-ni. I'm going to swing by there and see what he wants."
"So you'll be late, right?"
"Consider it done. Hey, this isn't anything dangerous, is it? Don't you need your partner for backup or something?"
"No," Jim assured him, pausing. "But, on second thought, tell him to go ahead and meet me at the station instead."
"You got it. You sure you don't need some help, though?"
"No, everything's fine. Thanks, Duke."
Jim hung up the phone, double-checked to make sure his car keys were in his pocket, and grabbed his off-duty revolver. He made a beeline for the door one more time.
The early morning regulars at Duke's were gone, either well on their way to jobs or already making decisions about where to eat lunch. Pete stopped at the door to look around the small café and decided to sit at the counter and wait. He was mildly surprised that Jim was not already settled in a booth and inspecting the menu. It wasn't every day he picked up a free meal from his partner. But that was the whole point, Pete mused. He knew Jim was having a difficult time of it lately, for a lot of reasons. If a little food provided a temporary diversion, then so be it.
Duke burst through the kitchen door holding an empty tray and a glass pitcher of water.
"Hey, Malloy! Been wondering when you'd get here!"
Pete smiled. "So am I getting that predictable, Duke? Maybe I need to broaden my horizons and try some other diners."
"You better not," Duke grinned, setting the pitcher and tray down. "No, listen, I got a message from Reed for ya."
"He called here?" Pete asked, rising from the barstool.
"Yeah, a few minutes ago. Seems he got word that a Mr. Ma-ri-no-ni," Duke stressed each syllable, "…called and had some information for you guys. Jim said he'd go ahead and talk to him and meet you at the station."
"The station and not at Marinoni's?"
"That's right. He didn't sound too concerned. I asked him if he was sure and he said yeah."
Pete frowned, wondering what news the grocery storeowner might have for them.
"Hey, Pete. You're not worried, are ya?"
"Duke, when Jim misses a meal," Pete cracked a brief smile. "I always worry."
Jim drove past the Temple of the Soul and realized how much the place was getting on his nerves. He parked his car on the street in front of Mr. Marinoni's Market, noting that the door wasn't propped open in its normal position. As he neared the entrance he saw the Open, Please Come In sign dangling behind the glass. Jim pulled the door open and stepped inside.
He heard only the continuous hum of a small fan somewhere in the back of the room.
"Mr. Marinoni, it's Officer Reed."
His fingers brushed the casing of his revolver and unsnapped the small holster on his belt. From his position by the door, he made a 180° scan of the small store. A low moan drifted from behind the counter by the register. Moving rapidly, Jim nearly tripped over a pair of legs as he discovered the old man slumped up against the wall.
"Mr. Marinoni!" Jim knelt carefully beside the collapsed figure and began checking for obvious injuries. He couldn't find any signs of apparent trauma. Breathing's shallow. Pulse is fast but at least it's steady.
The storekeeper mumbled incoherently.
Jim spotted a phone beneath the counter and reached over to grab it. He dialed the number for Dispatch and ended up talking to Officer Greg Foster again. Thankfully, the rookie had no trouble taking the information and assured Jim that an ambulance was on its way, along with any available unit in the area. Foster told him that he would also alert Pete to the situation as soon as possible.
Jim caught sight of some towels on a shelf behind him and placed one of them behind Mr. Marinoni's head. Reluctant to move him, he used another one to drape over his upper torso, hoping to prevent shock of any kind.
"Mr. Marinoni. Gino?" Jim tried again to get a response. This time he was relieved to see the old man's eyes flutter open.
"Can you hear me?"
"Sí…sí," Mr. Marinoni whispered, his voice faint and nearly inaudible. "Off…Officer Reed."
"It's okay. You don't have to talk. Help's on the way."
The old man's hand twitched, his fingers quivering as he reached toward Jim.
Jim nodded and grasped Mr. Marinoni's arm firmly as the man's eyes closed again. "It's all right. Don't worry, it's all right."
Squinting against the bright sun overhead, Michelle walked quickly from the house on Rockdale Street. After exhausting herself by tossing and turning into the early hours of the morning, she'd overslept. Her plan to leave by dawn was now a complete failure. She'd wanted to leave quickly, without thinking, without remembering the last few weeks, and without encountering Regina. But, in the last few minutes, all that had come undone. Regina was up and about and, as always, interested in her plans.
"Michelle. Where are you going?" Regina had asked, unexpectedly standing at the end of the hallway.
"The store." For once, Michelle couldn't think of a lie fast enough. The truth spilled out instead.
"You were there yesterday." Regina had walked toward her with slow, deliberate steps. Her long hair flowed wildly around her shoulders as her eyes pursued Michelle.
"I…didn't have enough money. I promised I'd bring back the rest of what I owed." Michelle hadn't been prepared to explain this time.
"There are no debts except to Reverend Sabeth, Michelle. Our duty, our lives… are here with the Reverend."
Michelle had only been able to nod, afraid that her voice would give her away. She'd only wanted a place to hide from the world…with people who would understand but leave her alone.
Regina had stood close to her and held out her hand in offering. The golden beetle that Michelle had purposely left in her room, under a pillow, was back to remind her.
"You forget so many things, Michelle. But for one so young to come to him… The Reverend says that's why you're a true sign of his power." Regina's tone had been almost wistful as she'd tucked the small amulet into Michelle's pocket. "So, for now, there is patience for you."
The petite woman had opened the front door and gazed around at the surrounding neighborhood. "But for others…those who betray and those who persist in persecuting us…there is only retribution. Each in their own time. Each in their own way."
Callous eyes had reminded Michelle. "That you cannot forget, Michelle."
Regina remembered how a strong breeze had ruffled the woman's hair, whipping it around. The bright red wisps had lined across her waxen face like streaks of blood.
"I won't. I'm going to the store and I won't be gone long at all."
Regina had squeezed Michelle's hand tightly and let it drop with a smile. "I know."
Now, as Michelle finally reached the end of the street, she turned the corner with renewed commitment. Watching her own footsteps, Michelle quickened her pace and thought about Mr. Marinoni's warm, cozy store. She knew, without a doubt, that she had made the right decision.
And then she saw the ambulance.
Coop answered with a tired laugh. "I wondered which one of you guys would find me first."
"You been working all night?"
"I got a few hours shut-eye after I checked out a few leads."
"Bits and pieces. One person down at the shelter verified the time Angie left and said she was as jittery as a first-time lookout. I haven't been able to contact the owners of that restaurant where she wanted to meet. If she felt safe there, I thought maybe she might be on friendly terms with them. So that's something else to check back on. I also read Tinneman's statement. Not sure what to make of that one, but I've got R & I checking his priors again. For now, we're able to hold onto him. If there's more to him, maybe he'll get scared and give us something before our time's up."
"You've been busy. Any word on when he might get arraigned?"
"Not that I've heard so far."
"Nope, sorry." Coop shook his head apologetically. "Although I did get more on that previous address you tracked down on him. I've been making some calls on that."
"My partner, the bloodhound. Jim can get rather…determined when he sets his mind to something," Pete said, dryly.
"I bet," Coop grinned. "Anyway, Sabeth had a similar setup in San Diego and it was getting to be a popular hangout for a few college kids. The authorities started to suspect he was up to no good but he disappeared before they could get much of an investigation going. Needless to say, the local police were not sad to see him drop outta sight. I guess he thought heading to L.A. would offer him greener pastures."
"Looks like he might've found 'em."
"Yeah," Coop agreed. "One of their guys had a run-in with him as well but he's out on vacation. Luckily, he's due back today and they're going to have him call me the minute he gets in." He pulled car keys from his pocket and jangled them in his hand. "I'm on my way to the Coroner's Office. They called earlier and wanted me to come down there."
"Too soon for an autopsy report. Maybe the toxicology results on that syringe?"
"That's what I'm hoping," Coop said. "By the way, where's your partner?"
"He should be on his way here," Pete said as his eyes searched the hallway. "Gino Marinoni wanted to talk to us and Jim's checking it out. I'm curious to know what made him call."
"Hope it's something we can use. After this stop, I've got to return some phone calls. But I've got some things I wanna fly by you guys later. Catch up when you find your partner?"
"Yeah, whenever that might be," Pete said to himself, as a distinctly bad feeling crept its way a little closer to his gut.
Jim tried to stay out of the way as ambulance attendants placed Gino Marinoni carefully on the gurney and secured him. They weren't able to tell him much more than he already knew. More answers would have to come at the hospital. Hopefully.
"So you didn't see anyone else around when you got here, Reed?" Henry Santos still wore his motorcycle helmet as he stood next to Jim. Black leather gloves and sunglasses were clutched in one hand.
"No. Just the victim. No sign of a struggle except for a few items on the floor back there. Mr. Marinoni could've knocked them off as he fell. It doesn't look like anything was taken from the cash register."
"Maybe the thieves got scared and ran."
"You came here to see him? Is he one of your snitches or what?"
"No," Jim said, watching the storekeeper's still face. "A concerned citizen."
"Oh. That's too bad. A heart attack then, maybe, huh?"
Santos held the store door open as the gurney rolled past Jim, its wheels clicking on the cracks in the floor. Officers Tim Adams and Phil Hoskins waited near the vehicles, one directing the meager traffic and the other sticking close to the radio. Jim had already given them an official statement but he knew they'd be doing a follow-up at the hospital. He wanted to be there as well. Two units rolling on the same call would provide him with that option. Jim walked outside, taking the keys he'd found in the storekeeper's apron pocket and locking the door behind him.
"Hey, this guy kept saying something." The driver of the ambulance jerked a thumb over his shoulder and prepared to shut the back doors.
"Gino?" Jim rushed to the rear of the ambulance as the other attendant placed an oxygen mask on the old man.
"He's out now. But he kept saying some name over and over. 'Corporal Joseph Camden.' Clear as a bell. Took a lot out of the old geezer."
"You're sure that's the exact name?"
"I wouldn't have said anything if I wasn't sure." The dark-haired attendant scowled and turned away. "I know what I heard."
"Gotta go!" The driver yelled, still holding one of the back doors.
Jim backed away as the ambulance driver shut both doors and trotted to the front of the vehicle. The expected wail of the siren swelled, then faded as the ambulance pulled away followed closely by 1-Adam-20.
"You know this Camden person?" Santos asked, adjusting his helmet as he slipped on his sunglasses.
"No," Jim said, shaking his head.
Santos grabbed the microphone on his unit. "1-Mary-18, code four."
"Not a great way to spend your off duty time, Reed, but that old man's lucky you came along when you did. If you want, I'll go ahead and get started on the report. I planned on taking seven at the station anyway."
"Thanks," Jim said, looking up and down the avenue. He stopped when he saw Michelle standing across the street, keeping a close watch on them. "I'd appreciate that. Look, could you do me another favor while you're there?"
"Sure, as long as I still get to take seven," Santos smiled.
"I'm supposed to meet Pete Malloy at the station. Would you give him that name to run? I want to go to the hospital first and check on Mr. Marinoni." Jim knew he'd have to endure Pete's ire for making another side trip. But there were too many unanswered questions hanging around right now and he'd prefer to have something worthwhile to tell his partner when he got back.
"Sure will." Santos climbed back on his cycle, slipping on his leather gloves a second before he gunned the engine.
Jim nodded as the officer revved up his motorcycle once and sped down South Arden Street. Looking back at Michelle, he decided to take another shot at talking to the young girl. Mr. Marinoni had suggested that she might have had a change of heart. He could only hope he hadn't misread the situation.
"Is he…?" Huge, scared eyes pleaded for the right answer.
"Will he be okay?"
"I hope so. He's on his way to the hospital and the doctors there will take care of him."
Michelle abruptly sat down on the curb and wrapped her arms around her knees.
Jim hesitated, taking a few seconds to observe the Temple's façade before easing himself down onto the pavement beside her. "Michelle, you don't have any idea of who might want to harm Mr. Marinoni, do you?"
"No, he's a nice man. No one would hurt him. Isn't he sick?"
"I'm trying to cover all the bases."
"Then you're wrong. He's kinda old. I should've gotten here sooner." Michelle stared blankly at the door to the empty market.
"You were coming to see him?" Jim asked.
"I…I told him I might stop by."
Michelle brushed her hair back from her face, holding it in place as she glanced over her shoulder at the same time. Jim didn't miss the anxious look that accompanied the gesture. He took another chance.
"Michelle, do you know a woman by the name of Angela Barrett? She went by Angie."
"No," Michelle shook her head, barely paying attention.
"She used to be a member of Reverend Sabeth's Temple."
"She's dead, Michelle. Someone killed her and left her in a warehouse last night." Jim hated the tactics he was using but he didn't know any other way to get through to her.
"You're telling me that to scare me," Michelle said, giving him a hard look.
"It should scare you. I'm going to be honest with you, Michelle. Sabeth is being investigated for a number of things. None of them good. Do you understand? The Temple could be a dangerous place for you...and others."
"Could be, might be. You don't know. People die all the time. Here. All over the world. You think you can go out there and fix everything. But you can't. No one can."
"You're right, Michelle. I can't fix everything. But I can't stand by and not even try. And yes, it is my job. But it's one that I chose and it still matters to me. I have a sister. And I know if she were ever in trouble and I wasn't around, I'd hope to God that someone would care enough to be there for her in my place. I wouldn't care if it were a friend…or a stranger doing his job."
Michelle's hands slipped down to the sidewalk, still not looking at Jim. "If I didn't know better, I'd think you'd been talking to my brother."
"Sounds like he wanted to make sure nothing happened to you," Jim smiled.
Michelle's attention snapped to a white convertible as it rattled by in front of them. Jim wondered if she knew the driver or recognized the vehicle but kept neutral with his observation. "Nice car."
Her head cocked a little as she weighed his comment. "It's a '63 Olds Starfire. Not hitting on all the cylinders, though."
Jim's eyebrows punched up in surprise as he grinned. "You know cars?"
"That one I do," Michelle shrugged off an embarrassed smile. "Only because Joey saved up his money and bought a used one. His very first car. It was kinda beat up and the cylinders were only one of the problems. Joey said the owner sold it to him for a good price 'cause it was fallin' apart on him. Joey said if he'd treated it with more respect then that wouldn't have happened.
"I'd have to agree with Joey. Is that your brother?"
"Mmm…yeah." The hesitation was small but noticeable.
"Did Joey finally get it fixed up?" Joey. Joseph. Joseph Camden?
Michelle nodded. "It took him all last summer. I never saw anyone put so much work into something and have so much fun at the same time."
"I did the same thing with my first car. It's not work when you love doing it."
"That's what he said." She gave him a curious look.
Two cars drove past them from the opposite direction. An awkward silence followed.
"Michelle, it sounds like your brother cares about you a lot."
"He used to."
"I don't want to talk about him anymore. It doesn't matter now."
"What about Mr. Marinoni? I know for a fact that he cares about what happens to you. And I believe you know the difference between him and Reverend Sabeth. If you're really honest with yourself, you know."
Michelle sat there quietly with both hands braced so rigidly on the curbing that her knuckles blanched.
"Mr. Marinoni said he would help me. And now…" Confusion and fear smothered her words as her voice faded.
"What, Michelle? How was he going to help you? What are you afraid of?"
Michelle shot up unexpectedly, catching Jim off guard. Had he gone too far in telling her about Angela Barry or somehow crossed a line talking about her brother? He stood up quickly and held out his hand. "What's wrong?"
"I gotta leave. Regina's expecting me," she said, backing away as she numbly stared past him.
"Michelle, if you're in trouble, you can tell me. I want to help you."
"No! No, I don't want your help or Mr. Marinoni's or anybody's. Just leave me alone," Michelle said harshly as her eyes flashed. "Maybe it's like you said. A stranger did stop to help me when no one else cared. Reverend Sabeth."
Jim watched helplessly as Michelle turned away from him and stumbled on a busted section of sidewalk. He couldn't shake the feeling that she didn't really want to go, that she was saying things that she didn't mean. His mind raced trying to figure out what he could say that would make a difference. Already it was too late. Michelle no longer walked down the street. She ran.
You blew it. Big time.
One hand kneading the back of his neck, Jim fought the urge to go after the troubled teenager. But it wouldn't do any good. He didn't have a legal leg to stand on when it came to Michelle. He caught sight of his car parked across the street and remembered that people were waiting on him. Jim stepped off the curb and immediately stopped.
An odd sensation tugged at him.
He turned and saw T. Leland Sabeth standing in front of the Temple door.
How long had he been there? Why didn't I see him before?
Sabeth was motionless, his hands clasped in front of him--an indestructible pillar of black granite guarding an entrance to a fortress. Dark-colored street clothing augmented the arrogance on his face. Even at this distance, Jim couldn't miss the expression of smug satisfaction. Seeing Michelle reject his assistance and run off like she did had obviously pleased the Reverend.
The two men stared at each other for a full minute.
Finally Sabeth smiled at him, pulled open the door and returned to the Temple. The fabricated shell of a building still declared itself a safe haven. Jim wondered when his followers would realize that it sheltered only one person--and that was Sabeth.
Pete stopped a few feet short of the locker room and turned. He hadn't recognized the voice at first but knew the officer as soon as he saw him. "Henry Santos. Haven't seen you in a while."
"Our shifts never seem to cross anymore" Henry grinned, his small, dark mustache reshaping itself along with it. "That's why I was a little surprised when Reed told me you'd be here."
"You saw Jim?"
"Yeah, and he gave me a message to pass along to you."
"Another one?" Pete knew he and Jim would be having a discussion later on. About the importance of communication between partners. Effective communication.
"You know about the call to the market down on South Arden, right?"
"Yeah. Foster told me. Did Mr. Marinoni's condition worsen?" Pete asked.
"That the storeowner?"
"He was alive, that much I know. But, apparently, he said something that got Reed's attention. Since there were two units there I offered to get back here and take care of the report so he could check out the guy's condition at the hospital."
"Oh," Pete said, relieved for some vague reason. "Do you know what it was that Mr. Marinoni said?"
"Some name. Ambulance attendant heard it right after they loaded the old man up. Reed wanted you to check it out pronto. Joseph Camden. Make that Corporal Camden. Reed said it didn't mean anything to him but I could tell he was a little anxious about it."
"I'll get on it. Thanks for telling me."
"You said Jim left for the hospital, right?"
Santos nodded. "He should be there by now. Unless he stopped to talk to that girl."
"What girl?" Pete said, quickly.
"Teenage girl with brown hair, big puppy dog eyes. She was right across the street."
"Did you see him talk to her?"
"No," Santos paused. "I saw her watching us like a hawk. I know Reed spotted her, too. He didn't say who she was. But one second he's ready to roll and then all of a sudden he's making sure I can talk to you, tell you about the name, all that. I figured she might have seen something and he thought I might scare her off. So I left."
"Okay. I'm sure he'll get here eventually."
"Malloy," Santos eyed him squarely. "Am I missing something here? Should I have stuck around?"
"No," Pete's shoulders barely rose as he shook his head. "I'm sure Jim's handling the situation."
"Okay. Well, when you see him, tell him I've filed the report but he'll need to attach his statement as soon as possible."
"Good to see ya."
"Yeah, you, too."
Pete creased the papers in his hand as he watched Santos walk down the corridor. When Foster had caught up to him and informed him about Jim's call from the market, Pete assumed Jim would try to follow up at the hospital if there was any way possible. Santos simply confirmed it for him. But this new information threw a different light on things. Michelle was back in the mix. And there was no doubt in his mind that the girl on the street was Michelle. Who else would've been able to sidetrack Jim? Had she seen anything or was she haranguing Jim for doing his job again? Was Jim on his way to Central now or waiting by Mr. Marinoni's bedside? Or was his partner still on South Arden Street? Alone.
That fleeting moment of relief was gone.